By Ron Fassler
It’s hard to believe that the musical revue Forbidden Broadway began in 1982 at a tiny supper club on West 72nd Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In the intervening 38 years there have been nearly as many iterations (including the L.A.-based Forbidden Hollywood edition that, instead of spoofing Broadway, made sport of the film industry). It’s all the brainchild of Gerard Alessandrini, who received a special Tony Award for his accomplishments in 2006 even though the show has never played in a Broadway theater. But the employment it has given to countless actors (as well as serving as an important resume booster for future stars) has been immeasurable, and it was appropriate to acknowledge that.
Now Forbidden Broadway is back again— in all its cleverness— at the York Theatre on the Upper East Side after a successful run that closed last month in the very same supper club space where it all began (once known as Palsson’s, it is now called The Triad). Playing in a real theater this time around was a bit of a thrill (I mean, there’s something about a proscenium arch that always gets me), especially when this edition is every bit as entertaining as so many that came before it. Alessandrini has lost none of his sharp wit and ability to skewer (with love) while keeping the audience in stitches. Granted, there are some very inside jokes which only serve to make a few people howl, but that’s okay as there are so many laughs to be had anyway.
The Next Generation begins with a family of tourists (after all, today they’re the theatre’s bread and butter in a way they weren’t in 1982). They enter during the show’s supposed opening number and commence to take over the proceedings, burning with desire to see the shows that have been running forever. And then it’s off to the races!
This new generation is directed with aplomb by Alessanadri— no small feat given that his past casts included starts such as Jason Alexander, Bryan Batt, Michael McGrath, Brad Oscar, Christine Pedi, and Barbara Walsh. First and foremost is Jenny Lee Stern, who excels at playing Mary Poppins, Bette Midler, Karen and Gwen Verdon. But it’s with her Judy Garland (which devastatingly takes a swipe at Renée Zellweger) that took the audience by storm the night I attended. The new parody of “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” (restyled as “Zellweger Smells in my Part”) showcased her powerhouse voice and showed off her ability to channel every celebrity she impersonated with astounding accuracy (and she moves great too).
The other female presence in the show is embodied by Aline Mayagoitia, who does a mean Bernadette Peters and shows off excellent singing, dancing, and comedic chops— especially as Elsa in Frozen singing “Overblown!” (instead of “Let it Go!”).
The men proved to be a triple threat in their own right: Immanuel Houston knows his way around a diva or two, bringing to life hilarious versions of Billy Porter and Jennifer Holiday (both in dresses). Chris Collins-Pisano has a formidable voice with which he can either mimic the childlike tones of Lin-Manuel Miranda or the guttural sounds of Alex Brightman as Beetlejuice. And, in a particularly inspired choice, a teen (or tween) is in the mix of Forbidden Broadway for the first time— Joshua Turchin— and he is absolutely adorable. This 12-year-old managed to hold his own and delivered his versions of Evan Hansen and Harry Potter with precision and a lovely singing voice. His official website states that he plays more than 11 instruments (how many more? come on… don’t be shy, Joshua!) and already has two national tours under his belt. Did I mention he’s 12? And as for Fred Barton on the piano (who performed that same service in 1982), all I can say is that the years have served him well: He knows how to make 88 keys sound like 88 instruments.
I don’t want to give away too many of the juiciest lines in the show, but I’ll leave you with its version of Oklahoma! that contained the night’s most on-target satire, brutally pointing out what made director Daniel Fish’s recent production so divisive:
Every night we make our Laurey cry
While the leftists balk
A right-wing hawk
Tells you why Jud Fry has gotta die!”
Right-wing hawk? Beautiful— and it works on a bunch of levels, as does this whole wonderful show. Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation positively sings!
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation
Playing at the York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s
619 Lexington Avenue, NYC 10022
Through February 16